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Can Biden resolve the deadly flare-up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Posted By on May 13, 2021 @ 13:56

Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement of Hamas are once again locked in a deadly confrontation. The clashes that started between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli forces at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem over the Israeli forced eviction of Palestinians from their homes early this week have now escalated to losses for both sides. It confronts US President Joe Biden’s liberalist agenda with another serious problem that begs an urgent resolution. How his administration tackles this protracted conflict will be central to Biden’s emphasis on human rights and a stable Middle East.

Israel’s military actions and Hamas’s rocket attacks have already resulted in the loss of many innocent lives, including 14 children in Gaza and 6 Israeli civilians. While Washington has affirmed America’s traditional support of Israel’s ‘right to self-defence’ and called for an end to violence by all sides, Israel’s disproportionate use of force has caused much concern around the world.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Israeli authorities of establishing apartheid and carrying out persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Israeli government has rejected the HRW report as baseless and biased. Yet, HRW has documented its claims in great detail. Its descriptions of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and in the blockaded Gaza Strip is sufficiently compelling to pierce the global community’s conscience.

This is not the first time that Israel’s behaviour has been branded as apartheid. Former US president Jimmy Carter used the term as far back as 2006 in his book Palestine: Peace not apartheid.

In an article at the time, he described Israeli behaviour as ‘abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required passes and strict segregation between Palestine’s citizens and Jewish settlers in the West Bank.’

Carter said that ‘in many ways, [the Israeli occupation] is more oppressive than what black people lived under in South Africa during apartheid … [and] that the motivation is not racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonise choice sites in Palestine, and then to forcefully suppress any objections from the displaced citizens.’ Carter’s description remains very apt.

Israeli authorities condemned Carter’s assertions, irrespective of the fact that the former president had made tireless efforts to bring together the Egyptian and Israeli leaders, Anwar al-Sadat and Menachem Begin, who negotiated the two Camp David Accords of 1979.

One of the accords was designed to establish peace between Egypt and Israel and the other was to lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state, comprised of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, within five years of the signing of the accords. Israel implemented the first accord but reneged on the second. Carter’s abhorrence is registered in his 2007 book, The blood of Abraham: Insights into the Middle East.

The reactions of HRW and Carter have been strongly backed by someone from the inner sanctum of the Israeli establishment, retired general Ami Ayalon, in the book he published last year called Friendly fire: How Israel became its own worst enemy and its hope for the future.

Ayalon has impeccable credentials as a most loyal son of Israel. He has served his country through a military career from the age of 18, rising to become head of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, commander-in-chief of the navy, and a member of the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) until his retirement in 2009.

He turned to peace activism in 2003 after, as he puts it, killing many Palestinians and burying his compatriots for the love of Israel. He said he became a peace activist due to a realisation that Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian lands and its discriminatory treatment of the Palestinians could only backfire, causing Israel to become its own worst enemy.

Ayalon expresses desperation about the diminishing state of Israel’s democracy and its treatment of the Palestinians. He sees an Israel that has become so self-seeking that it has deliberately turned away from understanding the Palestinians’ longing for freedom and a state of their own.

He, in turn, longs for an Israeli government which, in contrast to that under long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would be ‘fully committed to the values of civil rights, minority rights, human rights, pluralism, transparency, a rules-based international order, and peace with our neighbors’. He concludes that only such a government can declare a just war and that fanatics, whether Muslim or Jewish, will not be allowed to destroy Israel’s hard-won democracy.

And only the leader of such a government can ‘declare that our war to preserve our security and independence is inseparable from our decision to end our apartheid regime in the Occupied Territories and Gaza and to allow the Palestinians to exercise national self-determination in Gaza and what we call Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]’.

It’s time for the Biden administration and, for that matter, any state or organisation that supports Israel and is interested in the Jewish state’s long-term wellbeing to take the warnings of Carter, HRW and Ayalon seriously. They should prompt Israel to view its own freedom and security as intertwined with those of the Palestinians, and it must opt for the internationally backed two-state solution. Otherwise, the conflict will persist not only to the continued detriment of the Palestinians but also that of Israel and the region.

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[1] accused: https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/04/27/abusive-israeli-policies-constitute-crimes-apartheid-persecution

[2] article: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2006/dec/12/israel.politicsphilosophyandsociety